Few bands today smash stereotypes and break boundaries like Soulwax. Headed by music-obsessed brothers Stephen and David Dewaele, the Belgian workaholics consistently redefine what it means to be musicians in the 21st century, whether it’s recreating remixes of other artists’ songs (like those on their recent double-CD import, Most of the Remixes) as a live band or putting together a behind-the-scenes documentary of their life on road (the brand-new Saam Faahramand-directed DVD, Part of the Weekend Never Dies). And that’s not even including the Dewaeles’ myriad aliases: internationally revered 2manydjs; highly sought-after remixers; powerhouse production team; members of Krautrock band Die Verboten. And the list goes on. Here, Steph Dewaele discusses Soulwax’s zillions of musical projects, why he and his brother hate vacations, and who would play them in a “bad European comedy” biopic.
Part of the Weekend Never Dies was filmed over a period of about 18 months. Why so long?
We were doing a lot of remixes in the studio, so it’s not a fluid 18 months. It’s like two months here, a month there, a couple of weeks here, a couple of weeks there. We made another film also — a live film of us playing as a band, straight 55 minutes of music. It’s a double DVD. We put a lot of work into it.
What were you hoping to achieve with the film?
I think the idea of the film is to show a little bit what we’ve been doing as Radio Soulwax touring around — playing as Soulwax live, a dance version of what we do [Soulwax Nite Versions], then 2manydjs. We never had a plan for the film. Somebody at the record company was like, “We should get somebody to film this.” Then you film it, and afterward somebody’s like, “We should make something out of this,” and we’re like, “OK.” Before you know it, you’re making it.
It’s a hard process. I think it was very honest about what we do. There’s a couple of images in there when I wake up in the morning and I look like shit, and when you see that you’re like, “Maybe that shouldn’t be in the movie.” But a lot of people are like, “No, it should be in the movie, because it shows how you are.” The 2manydjs part [where the video is remixed on their website], that’s something Dave and me did. I think when you see images of when we DJ, it is horrible. There’s nothing more boring than a guy playing records. He’s not even doing dance moves. I can’t even put my arms up — I hate it. I think it’s cheesy. So we looked at the footage, and it all looked bad. Then me and Dave listened to the quality of the sound — everything is distorted, and we kind of liked that. Then we thought, “What if we do …?” and before we knew it we did something with it.
Were the funnier moments in the film purely accidental?
Nothing was planned beforehand, so it’s all stuff that, when you look back on it, you’re like, “That was kind of funny; that was kind of cool.” I also think when we’re traveling a lot with all these friends of ours it gets out of hand — a lot of humor. Maybe really bad humor!
It shows you’re serious about music but don’t take yourselves too seriously.
All of my favorite artists are like that. [James] Murphy [of LCD Soundsystem, featured in the film] is a funny guy. He’s also very eloquent.
If someone else were making a movie about Soulwax, who would play you and Dave?
We were asked that question before, and the interviewer was being so nice: “I think it would be George Clooney for your brother and Brad Pitt for you.” You have to be kidding me — we don’t even look like them! [laughs] I think my brother would be played by Pee Wee Herman, and I would be played by Roberto Benigni.
What kind of movie would it be?
I don’t know, a bad European comedy. I don’t like the idea of films about me. I find the idea of a film about what you do a bit abstract, like a film about you being a journalist. You could be the best journalist in the world, but still for you it would be a bit weird.
You guys do a million dates in Europe and the rest of the world, but it seems like you rarely come to the U.S. Is that a conscious decision?
No. Actually we talked to our agent about this. I think it’s only in the last year that America has, for some reason, caught up a little bit with what’s going on with electronic music around the world. People are picking up on it, and it’s pretty good. Thinking about that, it’s always been hard for electronic bands to break through. I remember the first LCD Soundsystem tours that they did here in America, because I went along. It was really weird. People were like, “What the fuck? What is this?”
In addition to putting together the DVD and touring around the world nonstop, what else have you been up to?
We did a lot of stuff. We just did a remix for MGMT [for “Kids”], we did one for Chemical Brothers [for “Hey Boy, Hey Girl”]. We’re producing and mixing Tiga’s new record. We just produced a record for Das Pop, a pop-rock band. I think in November we’re gonna start working on a new 2manydjs record. And there’s a lot of other stuff that we’ve been doing that people don’t know about, which is good. In a couple of years, when Roberto Benigni is playing me and Paul Reubens is playing my brother, people’ll be like, “Oh, they did that? Ahhh!”
The last time we spoke, you were about to record an album as Die Verboten, a faux German Krautrock band, with your brother Dave, Riton, and your friend Fergus. What’s the latest?
They’re forbidden. I can’t talk about them. It’s gonna come out — we already made two records, and we’re doing a third one, I think, at the end of the summer, when we’re back in Ibiza recording. There’s never gonna be a Die Verboten tour. It’s all like 20-minute long versions, all Krautrock-y, really spaced out. If we did a tour, it would only be in Japan — five dates and that’s it. It’d be legendary. [laughs]
A lot of people making electronic music today seem to be getting older — LCD Soundsystem, Chemical Brothers, Booka Shade — while the audiences for it are getting younger. You’re 38. What do you think about that?
Getting older is amazing. I love it. There’s nothing worse than people who try to be young all the time. It’s really weird. The last tour we did in Europe, whenever I’d walk onstage [there were] like 16- and 17-year-old kids who knew everything about Soulwax and 2manydjs. I’d be like, “They could be my kids!”
Can you ever see yourself getting tired of touring and making music?
I hope there’s gonna be a point where I don’t need to tour anymore, I can stay home, do something else. The last nine years I’ve been saying, “No, I’m gonna take it easier.” And then I’m back on tour and doing this and this and this. I think whenever you’re excited about something you’re doing and you’re evolving, it’s just inevitable that you keep doing it. Maybe we’ll do something completely different — probably we will — but as long as we have fun doing it and we’re so excited about making something, we’ll do it. The minute we’re not excited about making music anymore, we’ll stop, instantly: “Done. Thank you.”
Do you think you’ll continue to make dance music for a while longer?
I don’t see music as dance music or rock music. A lot of my favorite music was dance music, but it was the Clash. It was kind of rock, but nobody knew what to do with it. I always like music that’s kind of on the verge of all these things. I think the minute that something gets labeled, it becomes a tool for people to market — for me, I’m out of there already. Very rarely something will come out of it that will make me go, “Wow!”
Then there are great, innovative bands like Klaxons that the media has to give a label like “new rave” to.
I love them, but we get called “the godfathers of new rave” all the time and we don’t even know what that means. In our film, there’s a part where James Murphy is saying — and James is my age — “I used to go out and watch new wave bands when I was young.” It’s kind of weird to see this new rave thing going on. It’s like, your irony is my history. I love some of the old Simple Minds records, I love some of that stuff, ‘cause it was fucking amazing. I know for a lot of people now it seems like [in a cheesy voice], “Ahhh, the ‘80s!” and it wasn’t like that at all. Justice and other things that are happening [now] are a little bit of a “fuck you” to these things, and the music industry’s like, “There’s something happening here ….” They try to get it, but they don’t really get it.
I don’t really know how to explain it. The good thing about music is that it has this power to always be one step ahead of big money. But then money catches up with it, and it becomes bigger money.
Since Modular is your U.S. record label, were you at all affected by the news about them losing “gazillions”?
No. We’ve known Pav [Modular owner Steve Pavlovic] for a long time, and he’s a crazy guy. He’s an original. I like the fact that Modular is doing all these things, but it must be hard at this time in the market to do stuff like that. I actually think the music industry is changing so much that it’s one of the most exciting times ever. A lot of people are like, “What’s the new kind of music?” It’s not about the new kind of music, it’s about how the whole industry changing. For the first time in years, it’s become this thing where this kid in Russia can make the most amazing tracks, and people put in on the Net and it’s global, instantly. No one has even listened to it, nobody in the industry knows about it. They catch up, they’re not stupid — whenever there’s money to be made, they’ll be there — but it’s like cowboys and Indians now. I like it. I like that vibe.
Between your insane amounts of touring and time in the studio, your free time is scarce. What’s your idea of the perfect day off?
Being at home, not having to go to the studio, being able to listen to all the stuff we’ve been buying, make food, have a coffee with my best friends: That’s a day off for me. Really normal stuff. People say, “You should go on a holiday,” and then the third day in the holiday I already get ideas to do something. By the fourth day I want to do them. And by the fifth day I get really annoyed that it’s gonna take another two days before I can get back home. It’s horrible, we’re really bad at taking days off. We’ll probably die, then we’ll be like, “Ah, it’s too late. We could have gone to Hawaii!”
Fall 2008 North American Tour Dates:
10.24 New York, NY: Irving Plaza
10.25 Philadelphia, PA: Pure
10.26 Chicago, IL: Double Door
10.28 Calgary, ONT: Hifi Club
10.29 Vancouver, BC: The Plaza
10.30 San Francisco, CA: Mezzanine
10.31 Los Angeles, CA: Haunted Mansion
11.01 Juarez, Mexico: BorderNoise
Photo Credit: Jen Zipf/Prefixmag.com